Portland International Raceway
Portland, Oregon, USA
May 8 and 9, 2004
It's funny that I keep coming back from races thinking that weekend was the race of my life. Consitently feeling great must mean that I'm continuing to make progress.
Traffic around Seattle is thick and unpredictable, like some kind of volatile peanut butter. I left for Portland before 1pm, and thought I would arrive around 5pm. There was only light traffic, so I made great time and got off I-5 at the Delta Park exit around 4pm. Since the forecast was for rain all weekend, I went to GI Joes and bought a nice raincoat that would keep at least part of my body dry during the weekend.
Some racers hate rain. I don't mind driving in the rain at all. Sitting around in the paddock while I get soaked, however, isn't much fun and I wasn't looking forward to the experience.
It was sunny for the time being, and I left GI Joes and went to the track. Suprisingly, the gate was open early and people were trickling into the paddock. I found a spot and started setting up my pit. Even better, tech inspection and registration were open early. I was unpacked, signed-in, and teched before 630pm!
Work's been taking a toll on me lately, so I decided to get some grub, go back to the hotel, and relax. I ended up arrving at the track on Saturday around 9pm, with no intention of running the practice sessions. While some spotty clouds dumped rain on my competitors, I fiddled with my car and got my dry wheels ready to put on as quickly as possible.
Sure enough, during lunch, the weather cleared up. There was on more shower before my qualifying session, but I ended up running my dry tires and setting a personal record more than 2.6 seconds faster than my previous best time! The car was wearing the Michelin Sport Pilot tires, which I haven't used much. Since the tires are rather unfamiliar to me, I wasn't sure how to set their tire pressures. A web page I found earlier told me to run them around 38 PSI hot, and I was aiming for that. Despite my great time, I released a couple of pounds from the left front and went back out.
The car was far more skittish than it was in the previous session. I couldn't believe that the difference was so substantial! As a result, my Group 1 qualifying time was almost a second slower than my Group 5 time.
It was still a succesful day. Elated, I went to dinner with some friends and got some more sleep.
Race day was rather uneventful. I eagerly ran my Group 1 qualifying in the morning to try and bring my time down -- and did so, getting it to within a tenth of a second of my new record in Group 5.
While there were a few clouds earlier in the morning, the sun was coming out strong and so I bought a smoked visor for my helmet from Andy Collins. The visor seemed to be just too dark, but within a few minutes I realized it was exactly what I needed. There was very little glare in the car, and I had didn't need to squint or avert my eyes at any point on the track.
I qualified eighth out of almost fifty cars for my Group 5 race. I knew I'd have to drive like crazy to stay ahead of everyone; and I did! The race was incredibly exciting, as I diced with lots of different cars and made progress through the pack for the whole race. I finally got around Steve Pfiffer, and then found myself being chased by Lincoln Burns, one of the 240-Z drivers who's in my ITS class. I couldn't stay in front of him; he passed me with about 3 laps to go.
Lapped traffic wasn't making my job easy. But near the end of the race, I finally caught him as I entered the front straight. And the "last lap" board was out! I tried to remain calm and think about what it was I would do; I could just follow him and wait for him to make a mistake, or try a few moves and perhaps spin myself. But before I could decide, Lincoln's car sputtered and slowed substantially while we were on the front straight. My question was answered!
Later, I found out that Lincoln had run out of gas. I'm glad I beat him, but I wished we could race door-to-door more without worrying about mechanical failure. Every point counts, but an honest win would be more satisfying, I think.
When I weighed, the officials told me I was five pounds under. This was devestating; I knew my fancy suspension suspension parts taken some weight out of the car, but I never dreamed I'd be in jeopardy of missing my minimum weight. I had them re-weigh the car, and I luckily came in three pounds over. If I'd poured just half a gallon of gas more, I would have been home free!
I couldn't remember any details of the drive, but I knew I had done very well. The chance of being disqualified for a mistake like this would have been absolutely devestating. When I returned home, I bought some barbell plates and hardware to add ballast to the car. I also vowed to finish my ITS race with at least half a tank -- in other words, I'd have to start the race with a compeltely full tank. Never again do I want to be in the position of losing because of weight.
My Group 1 race wasn't eventful at all. I was mid-pack, and the group spread out very nicely. One of my competitors snuck by me at the start, and I took care of him within a couple of laps. Guy Selle had another mechanical failure, which is quite disappointing. I'd love for him to finish his races, as he keeps getting faster and will be a challenge for me some day soon.
But it really was a spectacular weekend. My new suspension has me making alot of progress, and I think I'm ready to start tuning a little bit. During the break on Saturday morning, I read the instructions more carefully and discovered I was running it at the "full soft" dampening setting, when I had thought it was set at "full hard"! The change was perceptable, but wasn't an incredible improvement. There's some adjustments I can do for camber that I think will make more of a difference for my times.
The car continues to run like a top, and I'm very pleased with my progress.